David Wallace-Wells, 2 December 2021
Wherever you look, the earth is in flames. The residue is carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ozone, black carbon, sulphur dioxide, and the particularly toxic grouping of small particulate matter known as PM2.5. Everything we burn, we breathe. Hundreds of millions of people live and breathe in cities permanently clouded by airborne toxic events. In November, the authorities in Delhi closed schools and colleges indefinitely, suspended construction work, and shuttered half of the local coal plants after an episode of ‘toxic smog’ and an order from the Indian Supreme Court to institute emergency measures to combat it. The smog wasn’t new; the response was. Throughout the city, particulate matter hangs around in offices, lobbies and private homes, even those with air purifiers. It often gets so thick that it interferes with air travel. More remarkably, it has interrupted train travel, the smog making it impossible for drivers to see the tracks. Taxi drivers have filtration systems to process the particulates that sneak in.